e-Commerce: The New Boom

Online Dispute Resolution in new-age digital commerce


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: ONDC

Mains level: Paper 3- Online Dispute Resolution


Despite the rapid advancement of digital platforms on the one hand and the pervasiveness of the Internet-enabled phone on the other, small enterprises such as local kirana stores have not gained from this. Online purchases from “near and now” inventory from the local store remain in a digital vacuum.

Online revolution in country

  • Increased smartphone use: The rise in smartphone use fuelled by affordable data plans has catalysed an online revolution in the country.
  • Pandemic accelerated digital inclusion: The novel coronavirus pandemic has further accelerated the process of digital inclusion.
  • It is now not only routine to transact online it is also common to learn online, have medical consultations online, and even resolve disputes online.
  • Increased scope for innovation in digital space: These realisations have given India the opportunity to disrupt the status quo with its innovative abilities.
  • Systems such as the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and Aadhaar, the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) and the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission have reengineered markets.

Why mall and medium sided businesses have not benefited from digital revolution?

  • Despite the rapid advancement of digital platforms small enterprises such as local kirana stores have not gained from this.
  • Cost of infrastructure: This is because, to sell on numerous platforms, sellers must maintain a separate infrastructure, which only adds costs and limits participation.
  • Distinct terms and conditions of platforms: The distinct terms and conditions of each platform further limit the sellers’ flexibility.
  • Consequently, small and medium-sized businesses have lost their freedom to choose and participate in the country’s e-commerce system at their will and on their terms.

Way forward: Open Network for Digital Commerce

  • The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) of the Government of India established the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) to level the playing field by developing open e-commerce and enabling access to small businesses and dealers.
  • The ONDC began its pilot in five cities in April 2022, i.e., New Delhi, Bengaluru, Coimbatore, Bhopal and Shillong.
  • Currently, the pilot has expanded to 18 cities, and there are immediate plans to add more cities.
  • The ONDC network makes it possible for products and services from all participating e-commerce platforms to be displayed in search results across all network apps.
  • For instance, a consumer shopping for a product on an e-commerce app named “X” would also receive results from e-commerce app named “Y”, if both X and Y integrated their platforms with the ONDC.

Dispute resolution through ODR

  • Disputes will be the obvious by-product of this e-commerce revolution.
  • Therefore, it is imperative to support this initiative with a modern-day, cost-effective, timely and high-speed dispute resolution system.
  • Online Dispute Resolution, or ODR as it is popularly called, has the propensity to work alongside the incumbent setup and deliver quick, affordable and enforceable outcomes.
  • The ODR is not restricted to the use of legal mechanisms such as mediation, conciliation and arbitration in an online environment but can be tailormade for the specific use case keeping the participants in mind.
  • ODR commonly involves case management systems, integration of communication technologies such as email, SMS, WhatsApp, Interactive Voice Response, audio/video conferencing.
  • With appropriate data sets in place, it can also involve advanced automation, the use of technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to enable resolutions at the same time as it would take to initiate a transaction over the network.
  • Many e-commerce companies have turned to the ODR with the realisation that in order to maximise transactions it is important to ensure a positive dispute resolution experience.
  • Adoption in India: The ODR is no more a distant dream for India as well.
  • The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) has mandated platforms in the UPI ecosystem to adopt the ODR for complaints and grievances connected to failed transactions.
  •  Ingram, SEBI SCORES (or the Securities and Exchange Board of India SEBI COm plaints REdress System), RBI CMS (or the Reserve Bank of India Complaint Management System), MahaRERA (or the Maharashtra Real Estate Regulatory Authority), MSME Samadhaan (or the Micro Small and Medium Enterprises Delayed Payment Monitoring System), and RTIOnline (or the Right to Information Online) are other examples of ODR systems that are widely used in the country.
  • Mitigating litigation risks: The ODR will help mitigate litigation risk and provide valuable insights into problems faced by consumers.
  • Consumers are provided with another choice for effective redress of their grievances, thereby building trust, confidence and brand loyalty.

Advantages of ONDC

  • Wider choice for consumers: The ONDC achieves the dual objective of wider choice for consumers on the one hand and access to a wider consumer base for sellers on the other.
  • With India’s e-commerce industry set to reach $200 billion by 2027, this shift from a platform-centric paradigm to democratisation of the nation’s online market will catalyse the inclusion of millions of small business owners and kirana businesses.


A dispute resolution framework that includes a customised ODR process can play a role in the network achieving its steep five-year target of adding $48 billion in gross merchandise value to India’s e-commerce market, a network of 90 crore buyers and 12 crore sellers with the least hiccups.

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